American football is a whole new language for Christian Wade

The former rugby player is adjusting to life as a running back with the Bills

Sal Capaccio
May 14, 2019 - 9:47 am

Photo: David Rogers - Getty Images

Imagine being 27-years-old, playing your entire adult life as a professional in one sport, then transitioning to another you’ve never played, and doing it at the highest of professional levels, competing against the best of the best on a daily basis. That’s what Christian Wade is doing.

Wade’s been a professional rugby player in the United Kingdon for eight years. Now, he’s playing American football for the very first time as a member of the Buffalo Bills.  

Wade was allocated to the Bills as part of the NFL’s International Pathways Program and is playing running back. He’s in a totally new country, learning a completely new language. No, not English, that’s what he speaks, albeit with a much different accent than you usually hear in an NFL locker room. Wade is learning the language of football for the very first time. Not just the words, phrases, and terminologies, but all the blocking concepts and even passing routes, too.  

Then on top of all of that, Wade is thrown into a position room with the likes of LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, two of the best backs of the past couple decades.

Is all of that overwhelming? Intimidating? Fun? I caught up with Wade after his very first pro practice Friday while he was taking part in rookie minicamp.

Here’s the full Q and A:

 

Question: "Well, you’re a guy there’s a lot of intrigue about out here and how you're doing. What did you think of your first day out here, playing professional football?"

Christian Wade: "I’m excited, man. We've been training, the voluntary, just like training practice and stuff, so we've been able to go through the plays and walk through them and stuff, but with no defense. So I'm looking forward to this, the first time I had a defense in front of me. I'm able to see how everything unfolds and stuff so I'm out there like a big kid, man."

 

Q: "What's a positive adjustment, something that you say, 'hey I got this from rugby, this is good for me?' And what's something that you know you really didn't get in rugby that you're going to have to learn?"

CW: "I think just my ability to find space and beat men one on one. That's the aspect that, even from this first training session, that I'm doing stuff. I'm running back (to the huddle) like, 'did I do well?' (The coaches) are like, 'yeah, good stuff,' but because I don't understand if I'm doing stuff I don't know what's wrong, what's right. All I know is how to find space, how to beat men, but obviously that's translating over and they're saying, 'yeah, you're doing a good job in there,’ ‘nice route,' and 'you got separation,' and all these new terminologies I'm hearing. That's a good thing. So that's definitely something I've brought across, I guess. And then the new things would be like having to learn the playbook, knowing where to line up and obviously there's loads of different terminologies that I'm having to learn, just basically what a playbook is. It's just a new language to tell everyone where to go and what to do. So that's definitely something that's brand new to me, along with protecting a quarterback and knowing all the blocking and stuff. That's illegal in rugby, so that's new here. I still haven't been exposed to that real blocking yet but I understand the concept of protecting the quarterback and trying to identify who's coming off the edge or through the middle and stuff."

 

Q: "Do you have playbooks in rugby?"

CW: "Well, we kind of do, but because the game's like running clock of eight minutes it's just continuous flow. Like 20-percent of the game is what we call 'set piece,' which is basically equivalent of like a snap in football. So off that set piece we'll have like a play that will say, 'this is the call,' and everyone knows what to do. It's not really a long sentence. It's just something like, 'yellow gun C.D.'. So 'yellow' will mean this is the area of the field we're going to, 'gun' will mean you've got these boys coming around and and 'C.D.' means counter direction, so just change directions. It's very basic. It's probably almost like like college football where there's not a lot to say but everyone knows what they're supposed to do, but that's only 20-percent of the game, so for me now coming into football it's like a hundred-percent the game, where everything is plays, and that small section of what I'm used to being a big part of it is now just a small bit."

 

Q: "But even an NFL huddle you're only responsible or hearing a certain part of it for the running back. You have to be used to that right? There's all these words but for you, you only concentrate on maybe five or six words, right?"
 
CW: "Yeah. So that's the obviously the thing that was, I guess, like a sigh of relief that I didn't need to know everything that's going on, you know? So obviously I went out and really didn't know much about playbooks and stuff and I heard the quarterback talking a whole story or a whole long sentence. Now I know I'm listening for certain parts, like what formation, (or) I'm standing here, (or) what's the protection? And then if there's a route I know I'm doing, and if there isn't a route then I've got usually something else I should be doing."

 

Q: "What did you know about American football before this process started for you?"
 
CW: "Just very basic stuff like obviously trying to get a first down and trying to score a touchdown, which is six points, and then you get an extra point, and just the very, very basic stuff. Obviously every day I'm learning new things, like all the plays, learning about how the defense works, coverages, the positions. There's so many things, every day that I'm here I'm learning something new and like I said I feel like a big kid his first day at school kind of thing, just excited to learn and I'm excited to get involved and just be myself and help the team in whatever way I can."

 

Q: "Did you watch the NFL ever and know about teams? Things like that?"

CW: "Yeah, yeah, I watched the NFL and have seen Super Bowl and stuff. We've obviously had the privilege of NFL UK being a big thing and now in the London series, so we have, I think, it's up for four to six games in London now, as well, so I've been to quite a few of those games. So yeah, I've definitely been like a fan from afar because it's American football they only really play in America. Same with the college system, how people get into the NFL, was all over on this side of the world. So yeah, I've been a fan from afar."

 

Q: "What's it been like being a room with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore? Real legends of the game. Just kind of what's that experience been like for you?"

CW: "Oh, man, just the whole team and being a part of a running back room with those two legends in the room I feel like is a massive privilege. Those guys have done it for many years. They're both real humble guys, as well. I have no issue of having a joke and a laugh with them and also they've helped me out on the field, just helping me, telling me what I need to do here or little things that they've seen in my game from rugby that we can kind of translate over here as well. So I just feel massively privileged and I'm just excited to learn every day."


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